Community TV stations want cable operators' OTT efforts included in MVPD reclassification

As the move to rewrite rules governing multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) approaches a vote at the FCC, community access television stations have mounted a campaign urging the commission to reconsider its exemption of cable operators' TV Everywhere or OTT efforts from classification. The reason: The stations believe they may lose access to cable channels as well as PEG (Public, Educational and Government) Access funding, should operators go completely over the top.

"Of particular concern is the proposal's attempt to classify over-the-top (OTT) video services provided by cable franchise holders as something other than a 'cable service,'" part of the form letter being filed with the FCC by numerous community TV stations reads. That could allow cable franchise holders to undercut their obligations to public interest initiatives, the stations are saying.

More than 50 community TV stations have filed letters with the FCC in the past month, according to the Alliance for Community Media.

"The ripple effect caused by a lack of PEG franchise funding and loss of channel capacity will prevent a large section of Portland's youth, minority and other underserved communities from having a local voice in today's media," said Whitney Jacobsen, vice president of Portland Community Media, in a letter filed with the FCC.

Converse, Texas, would see detrimental effects from the rule changes, according to Steve Bissell of the Converse Community Initiative. "…we will have nothing to work for if the City no longer receives the PEG funding. The City of Converse, Texas, at present is utilizing PEG funds for non-PEG access expenditures. Our organization's main thrust is making sure the PEG funds are used for setting up the access channels for cable television. We act as the 'community watchdog' for our local PEG funds."

A community station covering four Massachusetts towns was also worried. "The impact of losing PEG fees in the four communities we represent would be enormous. We would no longer be able to provide important municipal meeting coverage, coverage of town events, school related programs, and our award-winning original content," said Erich Archer, executive director of Cape Ann Television in Gloucester, Mass., in a letter to the FCC.

Do community TV stations have reason to worry? The FCC noted the obligations of cable companies in its December 2014 NPRM, saying that "Congress emphasized strongly that the public interest demands that cable subscribers be able to access their local commercial and noncommercial broadcast stations." The policy directive, the FCC said, will "ensure that local broadcasters will be carried" regardless of how video is being delivered.

However, the NPRM also tentatively concluded that if a cable operator's OTT programming is available to consumers "without regard to whether they subscribe to the cable operator's managed video service, [that] would be a non-cable MVPD service inside and outside of the operator's footprint."

That's the crux of the issue for community access stations, Archer told FierceOnlineVideo. "We want to make sure that the FCC doesn't set up an incentive for cable operators to end community access services," he said. As a board member of Mass Access, an advocacy group for community TV stations in Massachusetts, he said there's a need to speak up on behalf of the many community access television stations across the country.

Cable operators had not responded to a request for comment on this story by press time.

For more:
- see this FCC filing, this filing and this filing
- see this Montgomery Community TV post
- see this Alliance for Community Media post

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